Cat's Cradle -- suffocating amounts of cigarette smoke, sticky beer spillage, drunk guys crushing into you, and ear-splitting indie rock, right? This Sunday night it was a little different.
People stood, even sat in chairs, in absolute silence, transfixed by two people on the stage with nothing but acoustic guitars and occasionally a banjo -- they were Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. When these two stepped up to the mic, the crowd practically drew in a collective breath.
Welch's voice has a beauty that is unearthly and Rawlings works the fingerboard of an acoustic guitar like no one else. Every note is dead-on, and technically speaking, these two are perfect performers.
Their recent tour is in conjunction with Welch's newest release, Time the Revelator.
Welch has been a tremendous force on the neo-traditionalist scene since 1996. However you choose to classify her lovely, folky bluegrass music, though, it's nothing short of beautiful.
Thanks to the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," artists like Welch, Emmylou Harris, and Alison Krauss are experiencing a surge in popularity.
As a lyricist, Welch is a real poet, but she also has musicianship enough that her songs are beautiful even apart from her lyrics.
She sang many of her best-loved songs, including "Orphan Girl," "Caleb Meyer," and "Rock of Ages." As if in tribute to the "O Brother" movie, the one song that Rawlings sang lead on was "Big Rock Candy Mountain."
Proving the strength of her new album, Welch drew largely from newer material. One of the best was the wonderful song, "Elvis Presley Blues," in which she perfectly captures the sadness of lost American myth.
Perhaps most remarkable about Welch is the authenticity she manages to achieve. For a girl who grew up in Los Angeles, when she sings about red dirt, whiskey and Wichita, it's pretty convincing. Even her slight drawl seems straight from the coal-mining country she sings about.
Also part of the show's success was the casual charm Rawlings and Welch exuded as they bantered to one another on the stage. Their self-effacing comments and casual modesty belied the musical truth that became apparent to everyone at this show: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are two of the finest musicians and best live performers today.
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